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Big Environmental Disasters

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The 'Kill a Sparrow' campaign. In 1958, Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong ordered peasants to begin killing sparrows, which ate grain seeds and disrupted agriculture. The people complied, destroying nests, breaking eggs, and frightening the birds away by banging pots and pans. What Mao failed to consider was that sparrows also ate insects: the resulting locust swarms helped lead to the Great Chinese Famine, in which some 36 million people starved to death. In this March 1, photo, a sparrow stands in the snow in Tiananmen Square.

PHOTO: Liu Jin/AFP/Newscom/File

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